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SBI Guidelines: Application of the Guidelines

How to use the guidelines

The Selection Guidelines for ‘Sites of Biological Importance’ are divided into two parts, Section 4 which details the Habitat Selection Guidelines and Section 5 which details the Species Selection Guidelines for sites.


Section 4 covers the major habitat types, most habitats have size and species composition parameters. Parameters are given for both SBI and BAS selection. Where sites contain only one major habitat type assessment should be straightforward. For sites where more than 25% of the area comprises additional habitat type(s), the method shown in section 3.3 should be used.

A habitat should not be selected on its potential, but the possibilities for improvement should be borne in mind. The site description should refer to this.


Section 5 deals with populations of important species where habitat guidelines cannot be applied; for example a large water body with little vegetation interest but good numbers of nesting or wintering birds.

The Site System

Site Assessment and Notification Procedure

All surveys for site designation must be carried out to meet the minimum requirements for survey outlined in Appendix 2. Following site surveys and assessment using the guidelines, the Grading Committee is responsible for the approval of sites of suitable quality to be designated. Ultimately it is this specialist Committee of experts that decides which sites will be identified as SBIs or BASs.

Surveys are carried out largely by the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust but the Grading Committee will consider any new sites which fully meet the minimum standards for survey. The Committee will also take into consideration any valid observations received from landowners when approving sites and will notify landowners in writing of the outcome as decided by the Committee. The survey results are presented in a written citation and are also held in a database with Staffordshire Ecological Record (SER). Once sites have been ratified by the Grading Committee the relevant District Councils, County Council and other Partners have access to this information via SER. Printed copies of site reports are also sent out to landowners.

Monitoring and Re-survey

A process of review is essential to ensure a common standard is maintained in line with government guidance that sites should be of ‘substantive nature conservation interest’. All SBIs/BASs need to be re-visited periodically to assess their current condition. Grassland and wetland (including rivers & streams and ponds & lakes) ideally will be revisited every 5 years, with woodland, wood pasture and heathland sites revisited every 10 years. Revisits will include a monitoring check against existing information held on a site and the completion of a Site Monitoring Form found in Appendix 3. If any major changes have occurred to a site e.g. habitat changes brought about by inappropriate management a full extended Phase 1 Survey will be carried out to fully identify the changes and the site will be reassessed against the Guidelines and put forward to the Grading Committee for approval. Re-visits also provide scope for the identification of additional adjacent areas of potential SBI quality habitat which should be surveyed and brought forward to the Grading Committee for inclusion within existing site boundaries.

In some instances, where change has resulted in the destruction of the site or the whole site may no longer be of suitable quality to retain its designation, if it is to the agreement of the Grading Committee, then the site can be de-scheduled. Both the relevant Local Authority and the landowner will be informed in writing of this process and it will be recorded within the Staffordshire Ecological Record database. In such cases the landowner will also be offered the relevant advice to encourage the restoration or recovery of a site for it to be potentially re-designated.

Monitoring and re-survey should not become a mechanism for identifying the decline of sites. Therefore through the use of existing grant aid and advisory services positive management for sites should be secured wherever possible to enable good condition to be maintained or for condition to improve.

Determining Site Boundaries

Once a site has been assessed as being of SBI/BAS quality, a suitable boundary is determined which can be readily located on maps and on the ground and includes the area of land which meets the selection guidelines. This can be problematic for certain sites.

The boundary should be determined by readily identifiable management units, this may include habitat of lesser value where it is an integral part of the management unit. Where there is an aggregation of separate management units adjacent to one another, be it of the same or different habitat types the boundary should include all units as a single site. This is relevant for example where there are a series of unimproved meadows adjacent to one another which meet the selection guidelines.

Sites selected using previous systems

Following the publication of these Guidelines, a process of re-examining existing SBIs has commenced. It is considered that sufficient information is already available to enable most sites to be graded within the new system.

In the absence of the necessary information, it will be necessary to re-survey sites and a programme will be produced for this process.

Sites that have not yet been graded or re-surveyed according to the above will be assumed to retain their original grade.

Sites containing more than one main habitat type

Where more than 25% of a site is of a different habitat type, it is considered to require separate assessment. The way in which the site is considered will vary depending on which habitats are present. Combinations of habitats can often be said to act in synergy; giving greater advantages than the sum of the separate habitats, and would be more highly regarded than single habitats. All components of a site should be at least semi-natural habitat, although inclusion of other land will be considered where it is felt to be fundamental to the site’s integrity.

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Version 6.01 (December 2017) Copyright © Staffordshire Wildlife Sites Partnership, 2018 Last Updated: 8/04/2015